About the Teen Astronomy Café

The Teen Astronomy Café program is an out-of-school program that offers high school students opportunities to interact with scientists who work at the forefront of astronomy. The program will be from 9:30am til noon on one Saturday morning each month from October through May (except for January).

Students explore the birth and death of stars, killer asteroids, the structure of the universe, gravitational lenses, dark energy, dark matter, colliding galaxies and more. A hands-on activity related to the short presentation will follow as part of the Teen Astronomy Cafés experience – either as a state-of-the-art computer lab activity, a movie, a deeper discussion, or an exploration of the topic with a 3-D printer or an Oculus Rift. The students will use the actual computer programs and data that the scientists use!

The Teen Astronomy Cafés are open to all high school students at no cost. The program aims to elevate student achievement and desire to go to college, and perhaps inspire some students to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).

If students are interested in attending any or all of the Teen Astronomy Cafés, please have them register at http://www.teenastronomycafe.org. Dates for the Teen Astronomy Cafés this coming academic year are:

Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Teen Astronomy Cafés for this academic year will be hosted online. Registered students will be emailed a link to join the event a week prior to the Café. Once we are able to meet in person again, the Cafés will resume taking place at NSF’s NOIRLab.

About the 2020-21 Speakers


Everett Schlawin

Finding the Ingredients of Other Worlds: How Spectra Tell Us what Extrasolar Planets are Made Of

October 3, 2020

Everett is interested in what planets and their atmospheres are made of. He studies planet composition by observing transiting planets - planets that cross in front and behind their host stars. Everett is a member of the James Webb Space Telescope NIRCam team, led by Marcia Rieke. The unprecedented Webb telescope will enable giant leaps in our understanding of planet composition.


Dr. Adam Bolton

Looking through Gravitational Lenses

November 7, 2020

Dr. Adam Bolton is a scientist at NSF’s NOIRLab in Tucson, AZ, where he currently serves as the Director of NOIRLab’s Community Science and Data Center. He is an expert in imaging and taking spectra of massive galaxies to solve cutting-edge problems on dark energy and dark matter. Massive galaxies can bend light similarly to a lens, a process known as gravitational lensing. Studying the intricate patterns produced by gravitational lenses can be used to unravel the mysteries of dark matter.


Dr. Stephanie Juneau

Black Holes and the Fate of Galaxies

December 5, 2020

Dr. Stephanie Juneau is a Staff Scientist for the Data Lab at NSF’s NOIRLab. Her research interests are focused on the evolution of galaxies and supermassive black holes across cosmic time. She brings together expertise from spectroscopy, optical, infrared, and X-ray observations to unveil mysteries about galaxies and reconstruct their history. She is part of large collaborations such as the Dark Energy Spectroscopy Instrument, and the Euclid space mission, each of which will measure distances to tens of millions of galaxies.

Research Description: Black holes are among the most mysterious objects in our universe. What are they? How do we find them? You will get to learn about different kinds of black holes, and apply research tools to discover their telltale signatures in astronomical observations. As the power-engine of quasars (which themselves are bright beacons that we can see far in the universe), you will learn how the largest black holes might change the fate of the galaxies they live in.


Dr. Pierre Christian

Black Holes and Einstein’s Gravity

February 6, 2021

Pierre Christian is an Assistant Professor at Fairfield University, in Connecticut. Previously, he earned his doctorate from Harvard University, where he worked on black hole astrophysics and was a postdoc at the University of Arizona, where he was the Steward Prize fellow in theoretical and computational astrophysics. At UA, he used black holes to study gravitational physics. He is a member of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, a worldwide scientific effort to take resolved images of black holes.

Activity Description: The mathematical equations describing orbital motion are often too complicated to be solved with a pen and paper. In this activity, you will learn how professional astronomers use computers to solve for the orbit around a black hole. At the same time, you will learn more about the differences between Newtonian gravity that you learned in high school and Einstein’s gravitational theory of General Relativity.


Dr. Christine O’Donnell and Dr. Rachel Smullen

Breaking the Solar System (and Other Ways Simulations Help Us Understand Our Universe)

March 6, 2021

Dr. Christine O'Donnell is a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University, and her passion is to improve science education. She received her astrophysics Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in 2020, and her dissertation included research combining computer simulations of the universe with observational data to understand how galaxies like our own Milky Way formed, as well as research into inclusive education designs. Outside of work, Christine enjoys volunteering with animal rescues and participating in hobbies such as glassblowing.


Dr. Rachel Smullen is an astronomer at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She received her PhD in astrophysics from the University of Arizona in 2020. In her research life, Rachel studies how stars and planets form and evolve using large computer simulations. Her work has ranged from analyzing how clouds of gas collapse to form stars to exploring how planets like Tatooine can exist and investigating how Pluto got its moons. Rachel likes to use astronomy as a gateway science to share her passion for science and technology with people of all ages. In her spare time, she enjoys most things geeky and nerdy.


Ardis Herrold

Hazardous Asteroids

April 3, 2021

In this month’s activity, students evaluate the potential threat of an Earth impact by analyzing the orbit and estimating the size of a newly-discovered Near-Earth Object.

Ardis Herrold is the Education Specialist for Rubin Observatory. She is working to design the educational investigations that will enable students to explore and analyze Rubin Observatory data. Ardis graduated with a degree in Geology from the University of Michigan, then taught earth and space sciences in Michigan at the high school and college level, as well as working in planetariums and observatories. A lifelong amateur astronomer, Ardis has a personal observatory north of Tucson where she continues to explore the skies in her spare time.


Dr. Andre-Nicolas Chené

The Gemini Card Game

May 1, 2021

Ever wondered how telescopes are run at large observatories? Our presenter for the May 1 Teen Astronomy Café, NOIRLab Associate Astronomer André-Nicolas Chené, discusses the Gemini Card Game. This cooperative game for 2 to 4 players offers the chance to experience the complex decisions required to run a world class observatory.

Andre-Nicolas Chené’s main research interests are massive stars and star clusters. He studies the fundamental parameters and the evolution of the massive stars larger than 10 or even 100 times that of the Sun. He focuses on topics concerning massive star binaries, searching for wind variability, magnetic fields and pulsations. He also enjoys studying Galactic open and globular star clusters, the building blocks of galaxies. And dabbles in various projects on brown dwarfs, non-radial pulsating stars and high-redshift colliding galaxies, using his skills in photometry and spectroscopy at both optical and infrared wavelengths.

Previous year's dates, topics and speakers.